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America the Beautiful: In 2013 Life Will Be Better, Or it Will Surely Get Worse
It's the start of a new year. We can put the old year behind us now. Forget all about the disappointments of 2012 and start afresh.
Things will be different from now on.
We will be nicer to each other, more considerate of our neighbors, and more honest with ourselves. We will not spoil our children, brag about them on bumper stickers, or tell them how "special" they are so often (or in the face of mounting evidence to contrary) that it ceases to have any meaning, becomes galling to others, and drives many of our best schoolteachers out of the profession and into another more rewarding line of work.
This year will be remembered as the moment in time when we turned over a new leaf in public education; when we rediscovered that not all schools have the same problems, that inner city schools in high-crime neighborhoods, for example, present very different challenges from those in affluent suburbs and small towns; when teachers were no longer tethered to assessment tests that impose a federally mandated set of standards and a universal model of scholastic achievement on public schools across the nation; and when the unintended consequences of that well-intended approach – stifling creativity in the classroom and forcing teachers to focus on improving math and reading test scores to the exclusion of other worthy objectives (like firing imaginations and awakening a lifelong yearning to learn) – were finally recognized and rectified.
The era of dysfunctional government will end.
Congress will stop bickering and start focusing on fixing our unfair system of taxation and figuring out how to balance the federal budget this year. All the propaganda and misinformation about who pays what will cease. The mass media, including Fox News, will start telling us the truth about taxes (among other things) – for example, that the US-corporations-pay-the-highest-taxes-in-the-world mantra is a myth; that what they actually pay (the effective rate) in federal corporate income tax is nowhere near the top statutory rate; that this rate fell to a 40-year low in 2011; that even combining federal and state taxes on corporations puts the U.S. below the average for many of the world's major economies.
Truth will prevail.
The NRA will stop fear-mongering and defending the sale of guns designed only for killing people – you know, the kind that could (hypothetically speaking, of course) be used in a mass slaying in, say, a movie theater in Colorado or an elementary school in Connecticut. The policy implications arising from the fact that: a) there are an estimated 300,000,000 privately owned guns (1.4 for every eligible voter) in the United States; b) virtually anyone can buy an assault rifle, high-capacity magazines, and unlimited supplies of ammunition; and c) the incidence of gun-related violence – including mass shootings – is high and rising will receive serious attention by our elected officials at all levels. For the first time ever, our leaders will draw on the experience of other advanced democratic societies with much lower violent crime rates to fashion saner gun policies without repealing the Second Amendment.
Life will be better.
Everybody will have access to affordable health care. No family in America will be bankrupted by a catastrophic illness for which treatments are so expensive that even having health insurance is not enough to prevent financial ruin.
We will infuse capitalism with compassion and stop putting the profit motive above higher motives.
Hubris will be tempered by humility.
The commander in chief, re-elected following a bruising presidential campaign, will order a stop to drone attacks on houses occupied by non-combatants along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. There will be no need for "rendition" or the indefinite detention of suspects without charges, legal counsel, or a trial. The laws that allow warrantless federal wiretaps of US citizens will not be renewed in 2013 because the Pentagon and the White House will conclude that these policies actually diminish us in the eyes of the world, make us weaker not stronger, and undermine the self-belief that has enabled us to prevail over the tyrannies of the world for more than two centuries.
Mutual tolerance will triumph over self-righteous sectarianism.
We will remain "the most religious country in the West" even though the number of Americans claiming no religious affiliation has also doubled compared to a generation ago. But in an epic U-turn, we will never again try to impose our religious beliefs on society or use them to divide the country, paralyze the government, or interfere with the rights of others.
The scales will fall from our eyes.
Despite recent setbacks we were still smug in 2012, caught up in a self-congratulatory time-warp because ever since WWII we've been on top of the world. But standing at the edge of the "cliff" and staring into the abyss has made us see things more clearly, that our own history is not as pure as we often pretend; that we have shortcomings, too, both as individuals and as a society; that there's always room for improvement. We have learned our lesson. From here on out we will do better – not only because we can but because we must.
Or maybe not.